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From back burners to battleship decks


WORLD Radio - From back burners to battleship decks

A caterer in Alabama tried his hand at woodworking and landed on an unusual project

Myrna Brown

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Today is Thursday, June 22nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Coming next on The World And Everything in It: Repurposed wood and the skills to make it useful.

As Christians, stepping out in faith and trusting in God’s providence are core principles of the Christian walk. But what happens when we allow our circumstances to define that journey? WORLD’s Myrna Brown met an Alabama man who faced that very question. He says his story is proof that God’s plans and timing are best.

AUDIO: [STEEL DOOR SQUEAKS] So this is where you do your work. This is it yep.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: There isn’t much to see behind the squeaky, steel door. A long fluorescent light hangs from the 20-foot ceiling and the long walls are unfinished and window-less. But this space is exactly what Jonavin Murray needs.

JONAVIN MURRAY: We do all our cutting and milling and finishing.

Murray is a woodworker. He uses his hands to create desks and all sorts of things for his clients.

MURRAY: It’s an African Rosewood. Oh, there’s more.

Behind a smaller, white wooden door, the noisy section of his workshop. The hum in the background is a cacophony of sounds from his laser engraver, his CNC wood cutting machine, and his air compressor. And tacked on the wall, a tiny white board with a message written in green.

MURRAY: My kids wrote that for me. What does it say? John 3:16 and they’re just telling me that they love me. And I think my mom wrote that. It’s talking about Christ and it says, "Remember I am with you, for you and in you. Trust me."

It's a reminder for Murray whose path to this point has been full of twists and turns he never could have predicted.

The inspiration is just as important as the big yellow tape measure attached to his waist.


He’ll take both with him today, as he heads 40 miles east of his workshop to his latest and what he calls his greatest assignment, yet.


Docked permanently along Alabama’s Mobile Bay, the USS Alabama. The 45-thousand ton Navy battleship earned nine battle stars during its service in WWII. The decommissioned battleship became an Alabama landmark in 1965.


28 years before Murray was even born.

MURRAY: (chuckle) Here I am working with USS Alabama, creating pieces of history for everybody to take home. It’s just amazing.

Every year, between three and four hundred thousand people visit the USS Alabama at Battleship Memorial Park. That’s a lot of foot traffic across the ship’s 80-plus-year-old deck. It’s made out of virgin Burmese Teak Wood. The wood is not only rare, but slip-resistant, essential on a warship. Last year, leaders decided it was time to replace the deck. But instead of destroying 21-thousand square feet of world history, they started looking for someone to repurpose it.

EBB COUNTS: Finding Jonavin was like finding a needle in a haystack.

That’s Ebb Counts, Deputy Executive Director at Battleship Memorial Park.

COUNTS: Weeks and weeks I made phone calls out to lumber mills, cabinet shops even, lumber supply houses and put the word out that I was looking for somebody to create products out of our salvaged teak.

MURRAY: So they said, you know what, we feel like God sent you to us, like this is supposed to be.

COUNTS: [OPENING UP SHED] It’s a tight squeeze here.

In the shadow of the battleship, Murray and Counts step inside a metal warehouse full of teak wood.

SOUND: 78 ½. Got it.

They’ll spend the next hour inspecting, measuring, and recording the latest batch of wood headed to Murray’s workshop.

BROWN TO MURRAY: How many pieces do you think you’re loading up? Maybe about 40 or 50, and then we’ll turn that into about 200 pieces of product.

What’s going through your mind? You’re handling parts of history? You know, II can’t get over the fact that I’m even able to do it. I just thank God because, you know, I shouldn’t even be here.

If Murray followed the cultural narrative, that environment dictates outcome, he wouldn’t have that opportunity. The 35-year-old was raised by a single mom in East Cleveland, Ohio, at one time, one of the poorest cities in America.

MURRAY: My father, I didn’t have my father. I didn’t know him growing up and we grew up in a rough, rough like East Cleveland is bad. And so, that wasn’t even a thought that you could be an entrepreneur. It was like, work, take care of your family. Those were the things.

After a college scholarship, Murray began his career working in the culinary industry. In 2016 the husband and homeschool father of three relocated to Alabama to live closer to his mother. That’s when he decided to take a leap of faith and start his own catering company. Murray says those four years of business were good until COVID shut him down in 2020.

MURRAY: So I actually had to do grocery delivery service. I was delivering groceries. (chuckles)

While making those deliveries, Murray began noticing pieces of discarded wood in his client’s yards.

MURRAY: And I said, you know what, I bet I can make a cutting board out of all of this wood.

Determined to figure it out, Murray began doing research, taking classes and watching demo videos. Then, he walked into his first lumber yard.

MURRAY: It reminded me of culinary work. It was like walking into a market with beautiful produce and vegetables.

Once COVID restrictions were lifted, Murray’s catering business resumed, but with a new item on the menu.

MURRAY: So I’d take the host a cutting board that I’d personally made and they just loved it.


Murray still caters, still makes cutting boards, and now he’s added hand-made WWII mementos to the mix. Behind glass, inside the Battleship Memorial Park’s gift shop, Murray’s creations are on display: teak wood plaques, coins and coasters, all created in his workshop.

Ashleigh Milne, the park’s communications director, says Murray’s work is a hit.

AHSLEIGH MILNE: There was one lady who got here an hour early because she had to be first in line. She was buying a bunch. Having one of those pieces in the home is just one of those ways that people can remember the sacrifices that were made.


For Jonavin Murray, it’s a reminder that God’s plans and his timing are always perfect.

MURRAY: You never know what God has. If you just keep walking, you never know how close that door is and once you get on the other side, what God has for you.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Myrna Brown in Mobile, Alabama.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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